3 Reasons Why BDSM Fails and 3 Rules to Follow

You meet someone who will act out your hottest sexual turn-ons. You get along with them outside the dungeon too. Dinners, movies, and BDSM. Wow! Suddenly, you find yourself fantasizing that you will spend the rest of your life with that sexy person. Love happiness AND BDSM games and orgasms will be yours forever more.

So you do what we all do. You may get or give a collar and swear eternal devotion. You may declare your love all over Fetlife, or show your partner off at BDSM parties or events, or confide the exciting details of your journey into erotic bliss to all your kink-friendly friends. Or maybe you threw yourself into the relationship in private, giving and receiving the highs that come with feeling fully liberated and free of all your old fears and assumptions about being kinky. You found someone who loves you just as you are. Even better, they are kinky AF too. It all seems so perfect.

What happened to that beautiful BDSM dream?

Then, six months or even years later, you or your partner are DONE. The whole beautiful BDSM thing has crashed and burned, leaving shockwaves that echo through a life that feels emptier now that you have to hang it all up — the relationship and its comforts, the dreams, the rosy future of total psychosexual fulfillment you were counting on. Instead of looking forward to a lifetime of BDSM joys, instead of seeing all the early promises you made to each other get fulfilled, instead of that one true love, based on your deepest fantasies, all you have are blurred memories of the happy times and sharp memories of all the disappointments. What happened to that beautiful BDSM dream?

When I did the research for Different Loving Too (DL2) I asked every interviewee to opine about what makes BDSM relationships work and why so many of them fail. All of them had 20 or more years experience in BDSM/leather explorations, making them a fount of kinky wisdom. Virtually everyone who had achieved successful, loving and long-lasting BDSM/leather partnerships pointed to same three things they had observed, in their own lives and those of their friends, which explain how the bliss can turn into a bummer. It all boils down to three key reasons.

 

1 People cling to unrealistic and rigid models

After decades of listening to stories and speeches and reading volumes and tomes of opinions on the Internet, the only conclusion you can reach about how to define BDSM is to define it for yourself. If you think your role defines you, think again. In fact, it’s you who should define your role — how you will play it, what your own comfort zones are, and how to keep it real to the person you actually are, without trying to live up to someone else’s artificial construct of what a BDSMer is or how she should behave.

BDSM scholar, ordained minister and dominant sadist, Deborah Addington put it this way.

“The real challenges in successful BDSM relationships is building communication skills and living from an empowered place of proactive choice instead of fear-based reactivity. Saying, “Oh, I can’t be tender because doms don’t do that,” or “This obedient pose is how I was told submissives must act,” is the root of a fear-based choice. Proactivity from an empowered place can afford to look at what really IS in that moment and then makes choices in line with oneself and one’s desires.”

 

According to the legendary BDSM/leather writer and educator, Race Bannon,

“When you first enter the scene, especially the organized scene, you believe deeply that your BDSM identity, preferred kinks, and relationship dynamics are set in stone. You truly believe, “This is how I am and this is how I’ll always be.” Then the reality sets in that the only constant is change, and that applies as much to people and BDSM as it does to everything else. Today I identify as a switch, but increasingly I am eschewing labels. Sometimes I’m in high Dom mode. Other times I might feel more submissive. Most of the time I’m an opportunist and I say, “Show me the person and I’ll tell you what’s possible.”

 

2 People don’t live authentically

You might say it another way: people lie. But it’s actually a bigger and deeper problem. A lot of dominants withhold information the subs need in order to form a truly consensual relationship. They are either confused themselves and trying to figure it out or they believe that once they have a submissive, he or she is obliged to follow them like sheep, not questioning when the dominant suddenly reveals a secret or suddenly announces he wants to bring someone else into their relationship whether or not the sub likes it.

Subs are just as guilty of concealing vital information from their partners. Perhaps the biggest secret of all is that they may just be experimenting, instead of feeling truly committed to the relationship dynamic. Many BDSM relationships fail when the sub suddenly starts acting like BDSM isn’t interesting to them, or they suddenly reveal they have a side relationship with a straight person, or they don’t reveal truly important things like their mental health status until they have an episode. It isn’t a mental health issue per se that can destroy a relationship: it’s hiding it from a partner.

Founder and Director of the Dark Lair, Guy de Brownsville, says that the core of a lasting BDSM relationship depends on trust and self-honesty.

“The biggest challenge in forming BDSM relationships may be summed up with one word: trust. First and foremost one has to trust oneself. That is the hardest thing. We have all been conditioned to one degree or another. We are taught that men act this way and women act that way. We’ve been taught that this thing or that thing is wrong. If we think about those things, let alone doing them, we feel guilty about it. Being honest with oneself is key to making a relationship last because if you cannot be honest with yourself, you cannot be honest with your partner(s).”

Slave Faery, a bi woman who ultimately married the Master of her dreams, believes success can only come through radical honesty.

“One of the biggest revelations BDSM has given me has been the concept of radical honesty with self and others. You can’t live or play at this level without radical honesty. To live as a slave, I had to explore any manipulative tendencies in myself and grow out of using them. The biggest obstacle to BDSM relationship happiness is the tendency to “play act” to the point of dishonesty and trying to create relationships in the image of books, movies, or the preaching of people on the Internet. It leads to ugliness and hurt. Radical self-honesty is the only way to break with this.”

Patrick Mulcahey, iconic gay leather activist and educator who married his long-time slave, sees this as a universal problem in BDSM relationships and points out that the lack of good role models hurts our potentials too.

“The off-the-rack roles we absorb from the kinkosphere or pornosphere and impose on each other are obstacles to solid relationships. The strain of taking on those poses (the groveling slave, the imperious Dom, etc.) can mask, even doom, whatever might be the real possibilities between us. We play: “I’m a lock, you’re a key – we must be a fit.” Yet how else can we start, lacking in experience as we are? We don’t learn about kink dating or leather relationships in adolescence. The dearth of role models doesn’t help.”

 

 

3 People Refuse to Evolve

If there’s any one lesson every BDSMer needs to absorb it’s that just as our bodies change, so too do our needs, our fantasies, our goals, and our BDSM sexuality.

And then there is the biggest mind-blower of all: social change. There is no area of life that hasn’t been touched by new and different 21st century innovations and attitudes, from art and politics and technology to Lesbian and Gay rights, Trans visibility, Asexuality acceptance, Disabled acceptance, Body positivity, Bisexual acceptance, and attitudes towards BDSM. Given that the entire world around you is in flux, moving forward, and that your mind and body are changing almost every day, evolutions in your BDSM attitudes, the type of BDSM you do (or won’t do), and the configurations of your BDSM relationships should be the norm. But it isn’t.

A lot of people — and we see it especially in older generations still giving the same speeches they gave 20 years ago and upholding old ideals — are not evolving. Instead of embracing the new and moving forward, they are stuck in the past and angry that other people don’t respect the same traditions they lived by decades ago.

One thing that stood out for me when writing Different Loving Too was that people who had the ability to change with the times they live in, and to stay aware and curious as new things came down the pike, also had the happiest and most successful relationships. There were people in their 60s who were still reshaping their self-definitions, reconfiguring consensual relationships, moving into different stages and different ways of exploring their BDSM journeys, and those people expressed so much joy. On the other hand, some people never moved forward and you can tell that they are dissatisfied with what they view as the hand fate dealt them.

I see the ability to evolve as fundamental to the whole BDSM experience. We are (or should be) people who understand the value of diversified experience. People who don’t see any flux in their personal lives are stuck. In my experience, if you don’t change, you fail, not just in your BDSM life, but in your journey through life as a sentient being.

Eve Howard, a doyenne of the Spanking scene and writer/editrix of innumerable books and magazines on the fetish, pointed to the evolution in her own play style over time,

“Aldous Huxley said, “The only really completely consistent people are dead.” When I first came out I just didn’t think any role but spankee would ever suit me. There are plenty of male tops to go around for those women who only wish to receive. But the very first session I ever did as a pro sub, the client turned out to be a switch. I did not see that coming. I went with it and soon found out that switchable guys exist in numbers too big to ignore. Flexibility turned out to be a better match for me, especially as I get older. I can and do still sub, but not in the random, thrill-seeking style I formerly embraced. I’m naturally bossy and being a disciplinarian lets me have fun with that, ideally while providing a turn-on to someone else.”

Nancy Ava Miller, femdom founder of the historic BDSM group, PEP (People Exchanging Power), came to realize that you need the same set of skills to make BDSM work as you do in any relationship: maturity, forgiveness, and an ability to adapt to change.

“When I married my slave, Barry, I thought it would be sex all the time and he would do everything I wanted. I guess I expected he would always be obedient, grateful and accommodating. He had a rebellious streak in him or reached a point where he was controlling and critical.

“That was a shock, that a submissive man would get so combative. Since then I’ve gained a lot of insight into human nature. When he got rude and manipulative, I learned to sway with it. I realized he wouldn’t change and that I could endure it without turning into a bitch. I accept what it is and move on. He’s flawed as we all are. I’ve accepted that he will never be my dream man because no one man ever could be.

“If I want to stay married, I have to take the bad with the good and keep my stride. I may be a dominant female, but I can’t always get what I want. Or if I want it badly enough, there are better ways to get it than by nagging and yelling. There are kinder, more effective ways to work things out. I’ve had friends joke, “Oh if he’s misbehaving, you should just spank him.” But, honestly, I don’t want to do BDSM when I’m pissed. I’d rather resolve the problem before I play”.

FOLLOW 3 RULES FOR BDSM SUCCESS

 

Here are the basic rules you should apply to strengthen your relationships.

 

1 Consensuality is non-negotiable. People who find themselves doing things or acting in ways that don’t feel truly natural to them, or which don’t reflect their true underlying feelings, are doomed to build up resentment and mistrust that will make a BDSM relationship crash and burn. Consent isn’t JUST about agreeing to what you do physically in bed or dungeon. It goes to the core of whether or not you feel happy about the BDSM life you’re leading. Doesn’t matter if you are top or bottom: if you aren’t consenting with your whole heart, you will build up anger that can lead to a break-up so devastating it scars you for life.

2 Clear communication and honesty make BDSM relationships flourish. It isn’t enough to know what you want — your partner has to know too. Transparency on both sides is a fundamental feature of solid BDSM relationships. Your partner needs to understand when a scene doesn’t work for you and why, and he or she doesn’t need to find that out months after you’ve been doing it together. You both have the opportunity to fix things by negotiating them right after they happen and getting to a better place. If you let them stew and brew inside you, you cannot get that opportunity back.

The best time to be honest is in the moment a problem arises – not after it’s turned into a blistering boil in your soul months or years down the road. And, by the way, that communication has to be a two-way street. If your partner won’t admit when something is bothering them and otherwise keeps secrets or represses their true feelings, no amount of honesty from you will compensate for their lack of transparency.

3 Personal evolution is essential to a healthy, lasting BDSM relationship. One way to look at that is to accept that healthy people learn from experience. They avoid repeating the same mistakes and instead allow themselves to explore different options, different styles, and listen to the changes their partners need as well. If you are forever trapped by the same idealized expectations you had when you just started the journey, then it isn’t a journey. You’re just spinning your wheels in the same place you started. Learning to adapt and change according to who you’re with, what else is going on in your life, and what stage of life you’re at, and remaining open to new potentials for bliss (and to learn new true limits too), is what a successful BDSM journey is all about.